Some scattered thoughts on fiction


I am currently experiencing the pleasing detachment from reality that comes when you've spent your day being in two places at the same time.

One part was in a large comfortable bed, enjoying a cup of Turkish coffee. Or, well, what passes for Turkish coffee in the Balkans. The huge window, overlooking oaks yellowed by the sun, brought the outside world a little closer. Not too close, just right. The absurdly large windows that the Dutch favour took me a while to get used to, but in a scene like today's, they just fit. There is also something soothing that waits to be said about mismatched pajamas, stretched out sweaters and chocolate, but I can't pin down the thought. Still, that was today, spent reading.

My physical self was a lazy day personified. My mental self, on the other hand, was off adventuring. Living lives far removed from my own, thinking thoughts, meeting people and experiencing things I have not, in reality, experienced. Most such, that was I offered the opportunity, I wouldn't even want to experience. But from a safe, warm place, where the only looming concern is that I just ate the last piece of chocolate, I am quite happy to endure a "trial by seven" and risk a steel-tipped lance making my chest a bit... airier.

It is a bit of a doublethink to choose to engulf yourself in a first person experience of a fight for your life and, at the same time, desperately wish to avoid one at all costs. I think this particular talent, to hold two opposing beliefs at once, plagues most of us but tends to go unnoticed. It is one of the luxuries that fiction affords us.

There is a sort of magic in books. When reading fiction correctly, in my opinion, you can be come many. Of course you remain mostly yourself, but for a few hours you loan out your thoughts and emotions to another. Take a backseat in your own mind, so to speak, and let someone else do the driving. Whether be it a jousting hedge knight, a cancer ridden teenage girl, or an accidentally heroic hobbit, it doesn't really matter. The constraints of our reality cease to apply and while fiction is often merely an amusing holiday from the mind's constant observational ramblings, sometimes, when we are lucky, it can become so much more.

It has the wondrous power to show us other lives, other ways of thinking and being. All relationships are partly fiction, in so far as we can never truly hear another's internal rambling self, we cannot, with certainty, claim to know precisely what another feels, we can only attempt to relate what they chose to share to our own past experiences. To truly understand, for that, we would have to be them.

That is where, I think, lies the true gift that fiction offers us. It gives us more experiences, more points of view, more thoughts about more situations to draw from. With that, it gives us more to be ourselves with, our many selves, and more ways to attempt to understand others.

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